Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We celebrate the feast of St. Peter Claver (1590-1654) this week. When he signed his final vows as a Jesuit, he signed them “Peter Claver, slave of the Ethiopians forever.” (“Ethiopian” was a generic term at the time. It meant “enslaved Africans in the new world.”)
In God’s providence, we’re reading through 1st Corinthians these days, and the passage we just happen to read on St. Peter Claver’s feast day is the one where St. Paul declares: “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so as to win over as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19). This is exactly what Peter Claver did: He made himself the servant of the enslaved and ended up baptizing more than 300,000 people in his lifetime!
Peter Claver was deeply disturbed by the treatment and living conditions of the enslaved people from Africa. He saw a need and served it with all his strength. Not perfectly, to be sure! Claver was a man of his time, who also owned slaves. But he was also a man who rose above his time and who helped change the times. And from that, we can draw a lesson for our own lives.
What might it mean for us to follow the example of St. Peter Claver?
As we go through the All Things New process, the simple fact of the matter is that we’re going to concentrate our strength over the next few years. But then the question becomes: How should we use that strength? Let me put it this way: If we, like Peter Claver, could do one thing, do it well and spend all our strength on it, what should it be?
Cloistered monks and nuns concentrate and then spend their energy on prayer. They’re like the heart of the body. As a cloistered sister once said: “The bars of the cloister aren’t like the bars of a prison that lock people in. They’re like the ribs of the body; they protect the heart, so it can keep doing its work.” Beautiful!
The Missionaries of Charity concentrate and then spend their energy in service to the poorest of the poor. They’re like the hands of the body — giving the work of the body to others.
Peter Claver concentrated and then spent all the energy of his life caring for enslaved people. And it wasn’t just lip service. As he once said, describing his apostolate in a letter to his superiors: “This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions.”
His life raises a key question for us: As we concentrate the energy of our parishes and schools and agencies over the next few years — the energy of almost 500,000 Catholics! — how do we want to spend that energy?
I ask you to join me in that question of discernment in the coming months, as we launch our parish listening sessions in October.